Retrofit Cohousing Communities: Can they solve the elder housing shortage?

pat nichols birthday

Growing up in the Cole Addition in Cheyenne, WY in the 1960s. This is my across the alley neighbor Pat Nichol’s birthday party.

NOTE: Author Alan O’Hashi presented a WebChat on this topic for the Cohousing Association of the US. Download a copy of his presentation notes by clicking on the image on the left or this link.

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I remember growing up in a neighborhood where the kids all hung around together and the reason our parents knew each other was because of bands kids running through one another’s houses. Garage doors were always open and lots of neighborhood birthday parties happened on the weekends.

We Baby Boomers, now well into our 60s and 70s, are trying to figure out how we will be cared for now that our kids are scattered all over the country with lives of their own, or in my case, no kids.

According to a 2015 US Aging Survey, 58 percent of seniors have lived in the same home for at least the past 20 years. Even though people ideally want to stay in one place, there continues to be anecdotal evidence about future uncertainty. While researching this story I asked in a facebook post, “Who will take care of you when you get old?” I was surprised at the 2,000+ engagements and 850 responses that ranged from “myself” to “nobody” to “I don’t know” to “maybe one of my kids” to “my cohousing neighbors.”

Cohousing intentionally tries to replicate neighborhood relationships that came about organically, by “building community, one neighborhood at a time.”

There’s a big unseen housing shortage that will become larger in the years to come. Did you know that 10,000 people turn 65 everyday? While many seniors, like myself,  are able to live independently, there will come a point when we will need assistance or be unable to take care of ourselves.

This growth is pressing seniors and their families to think differently and more broadly about a whole host of issues: housing, transportation, social services, cultural offerings, health and wellness programs, to name a few.

Life care managers, like gerontologists and social workers, believe there is a strong correlation between safe and affordable housing and keeping seniors healthy through accessible informal and formal care giving.

A longer life doesn’t always translate into a better quality of life. No one knows this better than the millions of adult children caring for their parents who struggle to remain in family homes and communities ill-designed for the challenges of aging. Those challenges include long travel distances, non-existent or limited relationships among parents and their children.

Historically, seniors aged in their homes for as long they could with support from family and informal caregivers, until they died or health conditions deteriorated to the point that hospital or nursing home care was necessary.

These data are now flipped. In his book “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” Atul Gawande observes that now, the vast majority of people die in the hospital or long term care facilities rather than at home.

golden girls

The “Golden Girls” were among the cooperative living trend setters – ABC

The circumstances of where, how, and with whom people grow old are changing. From “Golden Girls” roommate households to high-rise artist-centered apartments, Baby Boomers are redefining how they live out their lives — breaking down the old stereotypes and rules, and building new visions of great places to grow old, and doing it better living in community.

One such housing configuration is cohousing. I live in cohousing for people over 50. Cohousing communities consist of neighbors who decide to live together in their private homes and agree upon common values, share in some form of consensus decision-making, operate and maintain common spaces such as a common house where cohousers share meals and activities together.

What if this cohousing “secret sauce” is applied to other senior and multigenerational housing configurations?

Continuing Care Residential Communities (CCRC) are good for some. For decades, Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) have offered older adults (usually age 65 and older) an innovative and independent lifestyle that differs from other housing and care options. CCRCs offer a living continuum  in which residents transition from independent to assisted to long-term care.

The CCRC model is appropriate for retrofit cohousing because cohousing can be the entry point to a CCRC. The main limitation of retrofitting an existing CCRC is one of control. CCRCs are typically managed “top-down” as opposed to resident directed.

Retrofit cohousing residents govern themselves and become accustomed to community living. That doesn’t mean giving up independence, but being collaborative among others with independent lives. While there would be changes in the cohort, the idea is that it would remain intact and repopulated with others attracted to the community lifestyle.

CCRCs allow seniors to convert home equity or other assets into a place to live and receive daily living services and health care that keeps monthly expenditures more stable – like a meal plan in the dorms. A CCRC isn’t for everybody.

The National Long Term Care Survey is a nationally-representative sample both of the community and of institutionalized populations and is longitudinal in that sample persons join the survey once they reach 65 years of age and stay in the survey until they either die or are lost to follow-up. The NLTCS data from 2004 are not up to date, but find that while CCRC residents are the oldest and sickest population, they have the highest incomes, with an average household income of $40,000-$45,000. Compare that to those in assisted or independent living who report average incomes of $24,000.

CCRCs are a tried and true lifestyle option for some seniors, particularly those with higher incomes and net worth, but what about everyone else?

alan wheel chair

My last day in rehab after six weeks in ICU and recovering from two surgeries in 2013.

Applying cohousing principles, relationships developed among neighbors and subsequent sharing of tasks and care for one another can help delay the need for other types of independent and assisted living.

Adapting existing housing configurations – senior or multigenerational – by adding the tenets of cohousing emulates what is provided in a CCRC:

  • Private residences and common areas;
  • A continuum of service, including food services, housekeeping, social and recreational outlets, transportation, and health-care services, as needed;
  • Housing rent or ownership that may utilize home equity to help keep monthly expenses lower

Buying into a CCRC is not cheap. Entrance fees range from about $20,000 to more than $500,000 or even $1,000,000, based on an area’s cost of living. This is clearly unaffordable to most people.

hospital monitors

Six weeks in the hospital and rehab and homeboubd for a mobth after. One day I was healthy, a couple months later I was on my death bed.

We’re all getting older every day. Unfortunately, for many young people say, under 50, the prospects of aging aren’t on their radar screens. It isn’t until the “Join AARP” membership cards start coming in the mail and phone calls from parents in the hospital announcing, “I fell down and can’t get up” that they begin to take notice.

Home living conditions have a huge impact on the health of seniors living with long-term illness and their abilities to live independently. Care managers and geriatricians are often called upon to give advice to families about where their aging family members who have developed illnesses or a disability can live, according to the Aging Life Care Association.

Seniors and their families now seek more information about the relationship between safe, affordable housing and health. At-risk older people who are on fixed incomes with no familial safety net are more likely to be living in non-decent rental or owner-occupied housing.

The 4th annual 2015 United States of Aging Survey, conducted by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and UnitedHealthcare, examines senior perspectives on aging and what communities can do to better support an increasing, longer-living senior population. The survey included a nationally representative sample of 1,650 Americans 60 and older, and professionals who work closely with them. These data support a need for supportive and collaborative communities.

Financial concerns:

  • The top financial worries that keep seniors up at night are increasing costs of living, 28 percent and unexpected medical expenses, 24 percent.

Maintaining health:

  • Professionals and seniors agree that maintaining good health as they age as important. They named eating healthy, 91 percent and 72 percent, respectively; maintaining a positive attitude, 86 percent and 72 percent; and getting enough sleep, 79 percent and 67 percent.

Staying at home and independent:

  • When asked what concerns they have about living independently, 42 percent of seniors say they are most concerned about becoming a burden to others, 41 percent said experiencing memory loss and 34 percent said not being able to get out of the house and/or drive.

Community Support:

  • 59 percent of seniors say that young people today are less supportive of seniors than their own generation was in previous years, 24 percent see the same levels of support, and 12 percent say young people are more supportive of older adults;
  • 47 percent, (down from 54 percent in 2014 and 49 percent in 2013) and 37 percent of the professionals say their community is doing enough to prepare for the needs of retiring Baby Boomers.
alan shoveling poster

Cohousers share in the chores around the community.

Retrofit cohousing can fill the housing gap. The cohousing model originated in Denmark in the 1960s. Architects Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett brought the concept to the United States in the 1980s. The legal structure is typically a Home Owners Association (HOA) or Housing Cooperative.

Most cohousing communities are multigenerational, but over time, become senior communities because of people who age in place. There are around 11 established senior-only cohousing communities and more in the forming stages. Most cohousing communities are new-build or adapted developments and some retrofits.

Research points to a variety of cohousing benefits. The most often mentioned benefits relate to reducing social isolation. The cohousing secret sauce provides for intentional socializing, neighborly support when under the weather, sharing chores, sharing expertise, and having neighbors who share similar interests.

Compared to the general population, cohousers are more likely to be a homeowner, highly educated, Democrat, White, female, and age 60 or older, according to the Cohousing Research Network.

Traditional cohousing communities may not represent the characteristics of a broader segment of the population that is interested in cohousing but unable to access, or would be interested if they knew about it. This is where retrofit cohousing can help fill the gap.

How a cohousing community gets started is like forming a club. A few strong advocates seek others to join the community development efforts. In addition to finding like-minded people who want to live together, they must also have the financial resources to invest in land, design and construction, patience to decide on countertops and landscaping and have the time to wait while all this happens. This ground-up process often takes three to five years or more with potential members coming and going.

The cohousing model can also be applied to more structured housing configurations such as existing CCRCs, stand-alone independent living communities, assisted living or long-term care facilities; and people living dispersed within a geographic area such as the Beacon Hill Village in Massachusetts.

The only assisted living facility I’ve heard about is one being planned by a life care manager in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

beacon hill village

Beacon Hill Village in Boston is a member-drive organization that provides services so members can lead active lives, while living in their own homes and neighborhoods.

Retrofit cohousing communities are more diverse. Data from a 2012 Cohousing Research Network study by Angela Sanguinetti compared the residents of retrofit cohousing communities (those that grow over time in existing residential developments) with the residents of traditional cohousing (new-build or adapted developments that start from scratch, involving a full group of members in the planning process who move in all at once).

When applying the tenets of cohousing, “retrofit” can also be a community of people who don’t live in the same proximity. Housing is housing, but the cohousing culture is what makes the community. The Beacon Hill Village is an existing dispersed community of 500 seniors who agree upon how to be active and supportive of one another rather than reliant on others to “take care” of them all the time. They provide neighborly support with one another and coordinate outside social and physical care giving when necessary.

The Beacon Hill approach would be appropriate to multigenerational communities as well. Since all are aging, it seems like people don’t get around to planning for their life care until it’s almost too late.

chung nyc coho

Jeddy and Cynthia created an accidental cohousing community in Flushing, NYC.

Residents of retrofit cohousing in one place include more young people, full-time students, renters, racial minorities, single householders, and households with fewer financial assets. An example, while not called “cohousing” is the case of a group of apartment dwellers in Flushing, New York City who became an accidental community.

Sanguinetti’s study finds that retrofit cohousing residents did not differ from traditional cohousing residents in terms of political affiliation or the level of education. The retrofit model may mitigate some barriers for a broader group of interested cohousers by being less resource-intensive.

The social support that cohousing offers may be beneficial for an aging population. Senior cohousing has received recent attention as a model to support well being, and aging in place through emotional support and activities of mutual assistance (e.g., doing errands, driving, cooking, or going for a walk with a neighbor), downsizing, and safety.

How does retrofit cohousing work? In a retrofit situation the community development steps are the same as for a traditional cohousing community. “Burning soul” advocates and other group members may or may not live in the same building or community. They may decide to move into the same apartment or condo complex, but would follow a typical cohousing development process such as these three steps that were identified by CoLiving Canada:

Feasibility study

  • Discuss and agree upon community values and perhaps, a higher purpose, which would fill the need to walk their community values talk while participating in service projects;
  • Whether you’re three or thirty people, come up with a name and “elevator speech” identifying the community. Referring to yourselves as a “bunch of housemates” doesn’t tell about your community story;
  • Community cohesiveness could be built around a higher purpose of community service that binds a community together.
  • Once you kick the can down the road a few blocks, check your state laws about homeowner association regulations. You will find they set up HOAs that do not mirror cohousing very well – lots of centralized power and control, lots of voting. Save this until later, because conforming cohousing declarations with state laws is a chore.

Develop budgets

  • There likely will be common expenses that relate to community activities, coordinating transportation, common meals, intra-community communication and a fee structure to pay for all or part.
  • Community values and mission are implemented through the budget by teams – overall steering team equivalent to a board of directores, social events, managing building and grounds, procesd and governance, finances and legal matters,
  • The entire community approves by consensus the budget or any action for that matter, and the steering team ratifies the action also by consensus.

Design and Construction

  • If you’re sharing a big house, there will be design issues about designating common spaces and storage. Some design and construction in retrofits may be necessary if you’re in an existing condo community or apartment building is adapted. This may include renovating an existing dwelling unit into a common space with a guest room and common kitchen which was the case at Boulder Creek cohousing in Colorado;
  • Identify resident needs, how the “site” functions – if it is in an existing physical development like a condo association, apartment complex, or households dispersed within a given boundary;
  • Determine what are considered “common spaces” which may not be literally common, but function in common. These may be in private homes for shared meals and meetings, civic spaces, churches, libraries

Looking for a few cohousing retrofit pioneers. There are plenty of individuals who are interested in cohousing. Some of you may have managed to form into group that has begun the traditional cohousing process but you’ve bumped into obstacles including lack of money, no suitable land available, professionals such as architects who are only willing to give so much upfront service, group members who can no longer wait for the community to get off the ground. There are well-documented war stories.

I want to prove the concept. I’m seeking one or more people, preferably in the Denver-area to organize a retrofit cohousing community and facilitate you through the process.

  • Maybe, you don’t need a place to live or have bumped into some community development obstacles, but want to create connections with other like-minded people as a hedge against loneliness and living in isolation;
  • Maybe you live in an apartment building and your neighbors are interested in a more collaborative lifestyle;
  • Maybe you are affiliated with an existing assisted living community and want to adopt appropriate cohousing principles

There are varying opinions about whether what I describe is actually cohousing, but regardless, I want to hear from you. Email adoecos@yahoo.com

In case you’re wondering about my interest in this topic, I became Medicare-eligible this year and live in the Silver Sage Village cohousing community in Boulder, Colorado.

To Have and to Have Not

Ernest Hemingway wrote a novel called “To Have and to Have Not” Not being much of a reader, I saw the movie with Humphrey Bogart. I’m not exactly sure how that story fits into this post, but it may have something to do with relative misery and happiness of people with lots and material possessions and those with not so much and their interactions.

alan-shoveling

Cohousing community members share in the upkeep of the common spaces.

In a community context, it’s about values and how people chose to live together. That’s relevant since I live in a cohousing community that consists of a couple dozen neighbors in the condo homeowners association. Each household owns their home has private lives, but share in ownership of common spaces and a common house which are jointly operated and maintained in a community life. The community had a retreat recently and one of the topics that bubbled to the surface was one of perceived conflicts among families around the value of money.

As a follow up to that, the community is organizing a workshop around the touchy subject of money matters and we were each asked to fill out a “financial autobiography”.

Set up a three camera switched shoot at a big awards banquet in Cheyenne. My roots are still in Wyoming. I also went to Laramie to pay my respects to a friend who recently died.

I’ll be working out of town that weekend, but thought I’d fill it out, anyway. Being a cohousing wonk, I think this is the type of personal information potential cohousing community members should share among themselves as a part of their initial development planning. I think that learning about people on a deeper personal level right off the bat will weed out those who don’t belong in a particular community or cohousing, generally. It’s not for everybody – although I’d say most people intellectually understand the benefits of community living.

maris topps

Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961. Baseball cards were among the first things I bought with my own money. This is from a cereal box. I went to the store with my mom. She shopped. I was in the cereal aisle looking for the box with the most Yankees.

What was your-first memory of money? When I started to get allowance, 15cents per week starting when I was seven. I got a raise to a quarter a couple years later. Back in the 1960s, there really wasn’t much I had any interest in buying except baseball cards starting in 1961, then Beatles cards in 1964. There were two drug stores nearby – Save More and Thrifty where my dad would take my sister and me, generally on Saturday to see what there was to get. I didn’t buy much candy or gum, since my grandparents owned a restaurant and we, pretty much, had free run of the candy counter.

What was your happiest moment with money? When I won over $1000 in a football pool at the Stockgrower’s Bar in Lander, Wyoming. I don’t remember the exact year, but it was in the 1990s. The pool was set up so the pot was progressive. Throughout the season, there was a winner every week or two. The last pot accumulated over several weeks. I don’t recall more details nor my numbers, but I had Kansas City and the Minnesota Vikings. Chiefs defensive back Deron Cherry intercepted a pass that stopped a Vikings drive at the end of the game which gave me the pot.

Your unhappiest? When I was laid off a job in 2004 and had to use my grad student loan money to augment my unemployment insurance benefit. I’m still paying that off, luckily the interest rate is 2percent. When I got sick at the end of 2013, my insurance was ready to lapse and I had to sign up for the first round of Obamacare. I ended up with two deductibles – don’t get sick in December – and re-upped with a higher deductible plan to keep my premiums lower. It took almost two years to pay off my out of pocket costs.

plains dairy trip

One of the dads organized field trips for the neighborhood kids. This was from a tour of a local dairy. We all got Popsicles.

How did you feel as a child, teenager, young adult – Did you feel poor, comfortable, or rich? I grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming. My dad was the manager of the Coca Cola Bottling Company there. My mom stayed at home. That was, pretty much, the case with all the families in the Cole Addition, which was a “suburb” that popped up during the Cold War. There was huge nuclear proliferation and Cheyenne was one of the “ground zero” locations with the highest concentration of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the country. We weren’t the wealthiest family in the neighborhood. There were a few “merchant class” families who ran family businesses, but most everyone worked for wages. In a sense, it was a mass society. Every kid had a bike, for instance, but some had Schwinns, others Hawthorne which was the Wards brand. Mine was a refurbished one that was rebuilt by one of the guys who worked for my dad. To this day, I prefer self-customized used over new. My dad was an “early adopter” we had the first TV back in 1957 or 58; the first automatic dishwashers, the first seat belts (they were after-market).

alan grandpa ohashi

All my direct family members lived in the same town and were close knit.

Were you anxious about money? Growing up, I was never anxious about money. I always had a nickle in my pocket and knew I had a place to come home. Being an entrepreneur the past 15 years-or-so, I’ve learned to wake up unemployed everyday and get with the program. So far, I haven’t grown tired of it since my work is a lot of fun and different everyday. There are a few of us who live in the community who still work and the place, otherwise, operates on a “retiree” schedule.

What did your parents do to earn money? I answered that above. We were always comfortable. I ended up working for wages for most of my jobs as an adult and didn’t get the entrepreneurial bug until I was old enough to know better.

Who handled the money In your family, and how? I’m pretty sure my dad handled most of the finances. When my sister and I left the house, my mother began working again and turned her water color painting hobby into a business. She handled much of her own book work for that. As a kid, I managed my own bank account, although I often needed a ride to the savings and loan to make deposits.

Was money discussed in your family? Money wasn’t discussed when I was a kid. It was talked about when I applied for college to get loans and scholarships. Money wasn’t really discussed until we decided to put all the family assets into trust.

pat nichols birthday

All kids invited one another to birthday parties. There was no exclusion.

How did your family discuss and express generosity? Generosity was about helping others out. My parents gave to the church, as did my sister and I – which we had to take out of our allowance. Most of the kids in the neighborhood must have received similar “be independent” messages. There wasn’t a lot of collaboration or group projects. It was all about the relationship-building, more so than doing things for each other, other than at random. In Cheyenne, all the new subdivisions had swimming pools. That was the major gathering place for kids during the summer. Parents all knew each other because of the kids. Most everything was on a neighborhood basis back then – neighborhood schools, the swimming pool, neighborhood 4-H clubs, neighborhood Cub Scout dens and packs. There was a lot of reciprocity – every kid invited the other kids to their birthday parties, for example. Generosity was expressed all the time. Intentionality was part of the culture.

Did your parents trust you to go to the store to buy something? Me going to the store was not part of the division of labor. When I was in high school and drove, I may have gone to the store from time to time, but nothing memorable. It wasn’t a rite of passage.

Did you ever steal from your parents, other family members, or stores as a child? When I was in high school, I tried to steal a paperback book for an English class from the local grocery store and was caught. I did it to see if I could get away with it, since I didn’t want to fork out for “Love Story.” The worst part was having to tell my father. He had to call the store and talk to the manager – Verlin – about it. He was a friend of my dad’s employee who built my first bike. I was cut some slack and I don’t think my dad ever told my mother about it.

How much money did your family have compared to your childhood friends? As I mentioned before the neighborhood was a mass society. The social class thing wasn’t evident. It may have been among the adults, but that wasn’t a friendship factor. Although there were some families who had more social mobility and had friends from other parts of town, all my friends were in the neighborhood and church.

How did your parents respond when you asked for something? I wasn’t much of an “asker.” I was always of simple means and didn’t want much. I began to work at a very early age so I could even further be a little more independent.

Did you have to start working or did you want to start working? I didn’t think one way or the other about working. When I was offered the Hitching Post job I got a bug for it. During the summer I worked sometimes 60 hours per week at $1.35/hour and time-and-a-half over 40. For a 12 year old kid, I was socking away a lot of money. My only expense was $.75 greens fee at the public golf course on Mondays. I didn’t work during the school year because I was in sports. It was good to have my own money and not have to lean on my parents.

hitchingpost

The Hitching Post was one of the CFD hot spots. It was my best job.

At what age did you start working ? I worked at my grandparent’s business, the Highway Cafe when I was probably 10 or 11. I washed dishes and paid under the table since the legal working age was 12 at that time. I mostly worked when my dad went there to cook after he got off his job a few times a week. My first real job was when I was 12 and my neighbor on the corner, Mr. Contos, got me a job as a busboy at the Hitching Post Inn. I imagine that came about from some conversation my dad had with him. That service-sector job gave me an early exposure to jerks, picky people, control freaks, and bad tippers at a young age. My favorite shift was working from 10pm to 6am during Cheyenne Frontier Days. My job was to run booze from the bar to the Coach Rooms where huge parties took place. Now that was an eye 0pening experience.

What Is the first money you recall earning and how did you earn it? Working at my grandparent’s restaurant was more like getting tipped. My first money making project was selling pop at the Cheyenne Frontier Days parade. During CFD, there were three parades at the end of July. My sister, cousin and neighbor chipped in, shopped the sales and bought up canned sodas throughout the year and stock piled it in our bomb shelter. Even though my dad worked for Coke, we sold the grocery store brand because parade goers weren’t that brand conscious and the profit margin was better. The first year, after dead-heading to resupply wasted a lot of time and after about three summers we figured out where to set up soda caches along the route. The last I checked, my cousin still has the first bag of money he made from that parade gig.

How did you begin saving money? My first account was Cheyenne Federal Savings and Loan. Relatives would give me silver dollars for birthday presents and those were put into the account. After silver money was taken out of circulation, I thought I would be able to withdraw silver dollars from the bank, but much to my rude awakening I was not able to do so. After that I like to have tangible investments.

hc alan debbie karen mary coors

I’ve lived gregariously much of my life, including in the dorms. Not only the same dorm, but the same dorm room for four years.

Did anyone help you decide on a career based on how much money you wanted to make? In high school, I didn’t talk to a guidance counselor at all. Maybe at the end of my senior year to determine if I had enough credits to graduate. I had absolutely no idea what to expect in college. I graduated high school and college at the end of the Vietnam War with degrees in political systems analysis and environmental biology. There weren’t many jobs out there counting smooth and wrinkled peas. I ended up sitting out post-war recession studying environmental politics and teaching at the University of Wyoming. I had no career counseling. If I were to do it all over, I’d go to two years at a community college so as to avoid taking the SAT and ACT.

What messages did you get from your parents about career, earning money and spending money? I didn’t get much information or advice from my parents about money matters. They were both high school grads and didn’t have much knowledge or experience, other than to say “go to college.”

What was/ls your view on money and dating? Who should pay for dates? I didn’t date much in high school. It was a non-issue for me.

When did you get your first credit card? What were your feelings about it? When I was in college I got a Diners Club card. That was before Visa and MasterCard. I worked in the student union checking out pool equipment from 9pm to 2am. I got paid to play billiards and earned money to pay a credit card each month. I lived on campus, at the student union food and didn’t have many discretionary expenses.

Will you Inherit money? How does that make you feel? All my family property is in trust, so I didn’t “inherit” it, per se. There hasn’t been reason to sell anything yet.

Will you have money to leave to your relatives? How does that make you feel? Likely, but in the back of my mind I want to be on my death bed with no money in the bank having spent or given it away while I’m still alive.

Could you ask a close relative for a business loan? For rent/grocery money? I could, but wouldn’t.

How do you feel about your present financial situation? I’m happy with it.

Do you know how much money you have right now?  Do you know how much you owe right now? Yes and I know exactly how much I owe on a credit card, car loan and student loan.

Who handles the money in your current household, and how? We handle our own money.

Is money easily discussed? There’s no reason to discuss finances.

Is money abundant or scarce? Neither abundant nor scarce.

How does your family discuss and express generosity? It’s not discussed.

In what ways are you a good manager of money? In what ways are you a poor manager of money? I’m pretty good at keeping track of my business money mostly because I have a good CPA. Personally, I don’t have many expenses to track.

Do you have a personal budget? Yes

Have you made decisions concerning retirement, insurance, drafting a will, and so on? I’ll keep working until I get tired of it. So far, I don’t know what I’d do if I had a bunch of idle time on my hands. I’m not much of a traveler just to travel. When I go someplace it has to be purposeful. The Talking Heads have this record called “Stop Making Sense.” The album jacket has a “scrapbook” of photos. One caption of a group of women doing their laundry in the river says, “Rich people travel thousands of miles to take pictures of poor people.” That’s not my thing. I have a will and a charitable remainder trust set up.

What kinds of things do you buy on your credit card? Do you ever buy groceries or necessities? I seldom buy any day to day stuff on a credit card. My card has no “miles” attached to it.

IMG_1510

I bought my first new car – VW Golf – since 1974 and traded in my 1993 Eurovan

Do you make big purchases like cars, appliance or other expensive things with your credit card? If I make big purchases, I buy on credit. Recently, I bought my first new car since 1974 on credit from the dealer at 2.5% which is pretty good.

Do you know what interest rate you are paying and how much you owe? Yes

Do you have any money secrets that you have never told anyone about? Let me think …

Do you talk to your friends and family about money—how much you have or don’t have, how much you make or how much they have and make? I talk about money in general terms with business colleagues.

How much money would you like to be making? What feelings does that bring up for you? I want to make accessible money while I’m sleeping. I keep putting myself into positions to do that and one of these days …

How do you feel about spending money on yourself? About the only non-essential things I get for my self have to do with my sports card collection. That’s more like a hobby business since no money changes hands.

Have you ever felt guilty about your prosperity? Yes, when I was held by police in Uganda and had to pay a bribe to a cop.

Have you ever felt guilty that you don’t have enough money? Is this a result of your mismanagement? I don’t feel guilty about having money or not. I’m not much of an extravagant person. It’s mostly a guy thing. I don’t buy new clothes, I don’t buy new shoes. If you look in my closet it looks like Batman’s closet – a rack of gray outfits.

ghost of xmas future

People should take a visit from the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come and find out what people thought about them.

How do you feel about the money situations of those who are more or less well-off than you? At one level, I feel sorry for them. I know plenty of people who are very well off and in retirement or close to retirement. They spend lots of money on themselves but don’t seem to be very happy. Many seem to have their own circle of acquaintances and I see them once or twice a year. A friend of mine who had been planning for retirement died suddenly and I’ll be at her funeral on Saturday. I’m a non-profit fundraiser and teach workshops about donor development. There’s a datum out there that as a percentage of income, more money is given to charity by low / moderate income people than by wealthy people. The stereotypical notion that rich people should be hit up for donations is false. It’s better to nurture a larger number of willing regular people than trying to convince a rich person. More well off people need to be visited by Ebenezer Scrooge’s Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come.

How do you feel about begging? Welfare? I have been on the public feedbag and I am very forthright about that and don’t disparage anyone who has had to seek an outside hand up. As for panhandlers, I used to think me giving someone money was some sort of social contract and the recipient wouldn’t spend my money on booze or smokes. But then I got to thinking about all the frivolous and wasteful things I’d spent money on like beer or a hamburger or whatever. When i give money to a stranger, they can spend it how ever they want.

In what ways can you be generous? In what ways can you be stingy? Do you treat? Do you tip? I’m randomly generous, throw parties, pick up tabs, treat, offer up goods and services for events and activities with no reciprocity expected. I’m not stingy, but don’t prefer to be with people who don’t carry their expected part of the load, or are constant “takers.”

We’re all “haves” and “have nots.” It depends on the time and circumstances. Everyone just needs to look themselves in the mirror and know that their experiences are not the same as anyone else’s and take those differences into account on a daily basis.

‘When I’m 64’ birthday book project for 2016 – 2017

A poem that inspired my book project.

Today is the final day of last year’s birthday activities.

A few months ago, a sidewalk poet in Fort Collins typed up a few lines for me that inspired the “When I’m 64” book project that begins tomorrow.

My 63rd year starts uneventfully tomorrow, May 2nd, with well-wishers on facebook and that will be the extent of it, but a yearlong celebration is stacking up to be action-packed. A smattering of events include:

  • a screening of “Aging Gratefully: The Power of Community” at the cohousing conference in Salt Lake May 19th
  • finishing up two documentaries – “New Deal Art in Wyoming” and “Art of the Hunt”
  • starting some new projects – in August “Plein Air in Thin Air” with a trek up the Grand Teton, teaching Arapaho kids movie production, Prince project in Wyoming
  • going fly fishing

When I turned 60 back in 2013, I had big plans to kick off a productive and action-packed decade.

Instead, it was a big mortality wake up call. I barely made it through 2013 with a big reevaluation of life which is why I continue my tradition of celebrating for the year.

The cohousing community had a talking circle tonight about transitions over the past few months.

Most of the conversation was rather dark about health issues and mortality.

I tried having those conversations a couple years ago with my neighbors which largely fell on deaf ears. Funny how people believe their own observations. It will be interesting to see if their perceptions will match up with reality.

As many of you know by now, May 2013 started out uneventfully – the Bolder Boulder; then the top of the Cyclone roller coaster; then a shingles attack; then too much work – “Mahjong and the West, Governor’s Arts Awards, a wedding; then a week stint in the hospital and then another six weeks in the hospital – that time on my death bed.

I snapped out of it and now every day I wake up, I’m grateful. I’ve been culling through my stuff which includes  a bunch of newspaper columns and other muses.

I’m compiling all that into a memoir woven through my health recovery experiences over the past couple years.

I took a couple writing classes to scrape off the rust, but turns out there are a lot of authors with worse cases of writer’s block than me.

The class exercises were helpful for structure and topics. Though, hearing about and helping others slog through their writing struggles was the most worthwhile. I thought I was stuck, until I met with my workshop-mates who are really stuck – scared to start.

I may run some parts of the book for you to check out. I still have a few things on my 2013 list to complete including weightlessness, skipping stones, climbing a tree and writing a book.

Would you invite your future self out for lunch?

I must be around two years old. My maternal grand parents visited on Christmas. My grandfather lived to be 103.

I must be around two years old. My maternal grand parents visited on Christmas. My grandfather lived to be 103.

I subscribe to a blog called the Gero-Punk Project and the query in a recent post was about futurism and asking readers, such as myself, to look forward.

“Would I go out to lunch with my future older self?” There were a bunch of questions, but I narrowed and modified them down to these:

How much older are you than you are now and how far into deep old age are you able to travel in your imagination? When I was laid up in 2013 and couldn’t walk, feed myself or wipe my butt, I thought this is what I would be like when I was ready for hospice care, hoping that would be in my late 80s or 90s. I have a family history of longevity and I don’t envision myself in that bad of shape. If I were to ask my future self out to lunch, I’d likely be in my 7os or 80s. A friend of mine who lives in Tucson in his 80s is quite active, works and contributes to the community. I see myself like him – he’s very computer and tech savvy, is still able to drive and get himself around. I can see myself in that way 20 years from now. Ten years from now is easier to envision. I see people around my neighborhood in their 70s and they are quite vibrant and keeping up with current trends. My mom died at 77 and I can see myself being like her and living actively up until my last breath. She lived long but died short of a massive heart attack in her sleep.

When you try to imagine your future older self, how do you feel? What sensations do experience in your body? Since resurrecting myself back to relative good health, I’ve become much more aware of my entire body, more so than when I was younger. I notice little things – aches and pains, itches and scratches more so than in the past. I lost quite a bit of weight – 37 pounds – that I want to keep much of it off (I’ve gained back 20) and still getting stronger from when I was bed ridden. The acid test was the Bolder Boulder 10K road race three months after being released from the hospital, which was a success. I had to take a swig of oxygen going up the last Folsom Hill into the Stadium. One of my neighbors in her 90s managed to finish the Bolder Boulder up until the year she died.

When you imagine your future older self, what are your surroundings? I’m thinking I won’t be needing any assisted living 10 years from now and probably still living where I am at Silver Sage. Twenty years from now, I hope to still be living independently. Even though living in “community” can be a big pain in the butt, it is nice to have neighbors around. I suspect the surroundings are going to change since I’m one of the youngest people here and in 10 years and for sure in 20 years, there will likely be some deaths and people moving out to assisted living, nursing homes or in with relatives and new, younger people moving into the ‘hood.

What are some ways in which you can experience enjoyment, freedom, and passion … in your aging body? I don’t want to out-live my peers, which is starting to happen. I’m making an effort to befriend men and women who are now in their 30s and 40s. I’ll live as full as I can. I tried shooting some baskets a couple summers ago with a kid, which was a cue for me to get stronger and get more flexible, which is why I started yoga class at The Little Yoga Studio. There aren’t a lot of men who attend, I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest person. I made a vow to myself not to end up being the old guy in the club. I could use some passion in my life as I get older. Time is getting away!

Who are your co-creatures in later life? With whom do you spend time and enjoy life? Over the years, I’ve accumulated a lot of acquaintances and able to stay in touch with many of them through social media. I’ve made a point of not befriending many of my cohousing neighbors. In cohousing, other than basic neighborliness,  my main interaction among everyone is conducting business. That will change as households age and there’s more reliance on a property manager, which is a transition that’s happening now. I don’t have any family of my own. I have a domestic partner, but she’s several years older than me and has her own family. It’s hard to say if I’ll still be in that fold if something happens to her. My cousins are scattered all around the place. They all have their own lives elsewhere and I’m not counting on them to pay attention to my well being later in life. I come in and out of a couple friends’ lives who would be a good companions — but life is about timing.

What is the quality of mind — the form of consciousness — that you bring to your aging experience? Cable TV must be the domain of old people. All the ads are for arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimers. I’m finding that I don’t remember proper names like I did. I still remember faces and details about people but remember a name on the spot? Forget about it, the name will eventually come to me though. I hear that if you play word games that helps keep the mind sharp, but I don’t think that slows down the aging process. Most places I go, I find that I’m the oldest person. I don’t know if others view me like that though, but I notice. I visit a friends and neighbors at the rehab center over in the nearby rehab center. It was one of those “one size fits all” places with basic physical rehab to long term nursing care in the same building. It was eye opening to see how people end up – unaware, wheel chair bound and just waiting it out. I hope I don’t make it that long.

What do you see as your purpose in your later years? When my dad retired many years ago and I was still living in Lander, Wyoming and “commuting” back and forth to Boulder working on a project for the Northern Arapaho Tribe, I learned about a guy named Rabbi Zalman Schachter who wrote a book called “From Aging to Saging.” I gave a copy to my dad when he retired. He was a bit freaked out about what he was going to do with his time. He wasn’t a golfer or recreater. He was thinking about getting into multi-level marketing, traveling. He ended up doing quite a bit with the Presbyterian Church – mostly because my mom was pretty involved. She was a watercolor painter and they were a team. She painted pictures, he matted, framed, hung and took down the shows. He didn’t really do much social change type work, but it was better than sitting around and watching sports on TV. I see myself still working. I’ve slowed down a bit, but I hope to be producing meaningful content for digital media, maybe helping organizations with fund raising.

What new things are your future older self learning and experiencing? I’m trying to keep up with the basic innovations and have always been on the leading edge of things. I used to be an early adopter of technology, but with things changing as rapidly as they are, I’ve been slowing down my consumerism. My dad never learned how to use a computer, although my mom did and was quite proficient at email. She didn’t make it through to social media, but I’m pretty sure she would be facebooking along with the best of us. Within the next 20 years, I’ll still be going strong keeping in touch with people the best I can.

What changes in your thinking and acting do you need to make in your current life in order to have the embodied old age you envisage?  I have to downsize. Get rid of stuff. I have started this and it’s a very tedious task. My sister has squatted on the family property that’s full of three households of junk. There’s no telling when that’s going to be purged. I don’t want to be stuck with the detritus of life. She still is clinging onto our parent’s past lives. It would be nice to get rid of all that property and my sister can get a life of her own.

If you invited your future older self over for lunch, what would you ask him? “Why the hell did you allow yourself to get so old?”

Ode to Greta, and other furry friends

gretaGreta got to the end of her leash.

My long time friend, Barbara is probably my best friend considering we’ve managed to stay in touch after bouncing in and out of each others lives for 23 years – including some small and large emergency situations, which now includes pet hospice.

Over the past few years, I’ve grown to know her German Shepherd, Greta, pretty well – good company, great traveler, friendly, attentive and smart. Your basic good dog.

Neither of us have children  which is one thing that binds us together and as such, I feel bad about Greta. Losing a pet is certainly not the same as when a close relative dies on you, though.

I relate to Barbara losing her dog. It was emotional. Losing my cats was emotional.

george and gracie smallMy tan and gray tabby cats,  George and Gracie, were given to me by a coworker when I was in Lander, Wyoming close to 40 years ago. Both were the runts of the litter. I fed both with a medicine dropper until they were able to get around on there own.

Both took a liking to me.

They better have.

Gracie stayed mostly indoors, but George was an outdoor cat and would  be gone for a week or more at a time. I’m pretty sure he had a second life some where else, but he’d always come back like nothing happened.

Every morning George would sit on the sink while I was in the shower. I don’t know what it is about cats and bathrooms.

One day, he wasn’t there.

It seemed like he lost his self esteem, was depressed. I started finding him laying in his litter box.

A friend of mine, John Mionczynski from nearby Atlantic City, Wyoming was a pet herbalist. John most recently is well known as a cable TV Big Foot expert. He came over and diagnosed George as having cat leukemia.

He prescribed a goldenrod mush. That worked for a while and George perked up for a few days.

In retrospect, it wasn’t the best choice since the treatment prolonged his agony. I picked up George and put him in the basket where he liked to sleep. The next morning I found him lifeless on the kitchen floor.

The loss of that cat was hard on me, harder than any of the other critters I’ve had to put down over the years.

I went through that alone.

I haven’t heard of many animals who die naturally, as George did. In Lander, there was a vet who made house calls. He was gentle but very matter of fact.

I asked about an autopsy. He told me not to worry, which sounded like he would take care of George.

I didn’t want to be a “crazy cat” guy and bury him in the back yard, but it wasn’t a very ceremonious departure. The vet placed George in a black trash bag and hauled him off.

As for Gracie? After George died, I moved to another house and she disappeared, probably got lost trying to find her previous home.

As for Greta?

I helped Greta to her bed on the porch. She had degenerative myelopathy and lost the use of her back legs and bladder. She was still with it, checking out the horizon, sniffing the air. She couldn’t hear much anymore.

After scratching behind her ears, I bade her farewell. Barbara had a couple other friends over for when the vet came.

Over the past year, I’ve been to memorials and wakes for three family members – my Uncle Rich, Aunties Jeannie and Elsie.

Those three relatives went out with little notice. They didn’t want a big fuss, considering that past funerals in my family were pretty big deals.

When my dad was in hospice care at the hospital, I had a good talk with him when he was still lucid and conversational but I wasn’t present when the plug was pulled.

I was unemployed for the first time and finally landed a job. We talked about that and both agreed I should show up to work for the first day on Monday.

He must have taken a fast turn for the worst because he died that Sunday.

Dad had a good run, but a miserable life the last few years with COPD. I think I had what he had, but his was misdiagnosed. I came out of it because of better technology – namely the Video-assisted thoracoscopic Surgery (VATS) lung biopsy.

I probably should have stuck for an extra day to support my mother. She died of a massive heart attack in her sleep three months later.

Deaths are for the living.

I wonder why dead people try to control others from the grave. In both my parent’s cases, they wanted people to get together. Those were a couple pretty good wakes.

Funerals are about the only times all the cousins get together anymore, at least the ones within a few hundred miles. Auntie Elsie denied us of that, because she didn’t want what she considered a big todo, it actually had the opposite effect.

It’s odd that it takes a tragedy as an excuse to get people together. 

Pets on the other hand, alive and dead, are all about their people and happy we’re there regardless. Closing out a pet’s life is way less complicated than all the paperwork that goes into being sure a human is actually dead.

When the vet arrived, I imagine Greta didn’t know what was coming, but I know Barbara is okay with my mourning and the well wishes of others. I’ll always remember that dog.

As for me, there’s now Moon the cat who will likely out-live not only me, but everyone else.

Forget estate planning, who’ll take care of the cat?